Change at work can come in many forms. It might be having your desk moved to a dingy corner of the office or hearing your boss announce that you’ve been made redundant.
But any change big or small can have a big impact on you. Establish some coping strategies so you can deal with them. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself on an out of control, uncomfortable and damaging emotional rollercoaster.
You’re incredibly lucky these days if even a week goes by without some sort of change at work. In fact, the degree of change can make you feel that you’re only one phone call, email or extraordinary meeting away from a life-altering transition – good or bad.
The problem is that if, like many people, you’re one salary payment away from financial disaster, it’s worth shoring up your career by making sure you’re changing at the same rate as the job market. That means regularly assessing your skills, understanding your value to your employer and having a career plan. That way you’re always prepared with a back-up plan, in case the worst happens.
So how do you cope with change? What should your strategies be? And how do you find a way to be prepared for change without living in a state of constant worry about what might happen next?
When it comes to your job, you can't stop change happening. And depending on what the change is, your reaction to it could range from excitement to fear – and everything in between.
But whatever your feelings and whether a given change is good or bad, you can choose how you deal with it. You might not be able to control external events, but with the right attitude you can control how you choose to experience them.
Let’s explore the different ways you can approach change so you can create a strategy for coping with it.
Change forces us to think, work and even live differently. Its impact can affect us emotionally, physically, financially and psychologically. It can influence our relationships, our identity and even our physical security. For this reason, it’s helpful to be aware of the four stages of change so you can understand how you might be feeling.
Stage 1: Shock and disorientation.
Stage 2: Anger and other emotional responses.
Stage 3: Coming to terms with the new situation.
Stage 4: Acceptance and moving forward.
To help you understand them better, let's look at the four stages in detail.
Stage 1: Shock and disorientation
Experiencing a sudden or big change can feel like a physical blow. This is a symptom of shock and it can leave you feeling dazed, confused and disconnected. Your feelings may be numb at this point, but they will come out eventually.
Stage 2: Anger and other strong emotions
Once the shock subsides, you may experience a lot of powerful emotions such as anger, resentment, and bitterness towards the company or colleagues. You may find yourself swinging between emotional highs and lows during this stage.
Stage 3: Coming to terms with the new situation
This is the stage where your focus will gradually shift from what you've lost and toward new possibilities and opportunities. It may take a while to get here and you might resist the process, but it's an essential part of coping.
Stage 4: Acceptance and moving forward
This is where you start to accept the change in your circumstances. Acceptance doesn't mean completely letting go of the past, but you’ll feel more able to see the good things about what you had and still be able to look to the future with some degree of optimism and anticipation.
Generally, most of us use two strategies to cope with change: escape and control.
As it suggests, escape is based on coping with a situation by avoiding it. In other words: denial. It might not be conscious avoidance all the time, though. For example, you might find yourself being late for important meetings, not reading letters from HR about redundancies or taking refuge in self-destructive behaviours, like drinking too much, taking drugs or overspending.
The other strategy for coping with change is to take control. It’s a more positive and proactive response that quickly gets you out of victim mode. When you take control, it’s easier to manage your feelings, get support and do whatever needs to be done. You’ll be prepared not only to survive the change, but to thrive through it as well.
It’s likely that you’ll use a combination of both coping strategies. And although control is the better strategy, sometimes it’s okay to allow yourself to escape and give yourself a chance to recover from the shock of what you’re dealing with.
To help you navigate change, here are our 10 top tips for coping with change at work.
Tip 1: Gather information
In the initial stage of coping, you'll likely feel confused and uncertain. Your first priority should be to seek reliable information to help you make sense of the situation.
Tip 2: Get regular updates
Ask for updates from your manager and HR department, research other people's similar experiences, and talk through your concerns with family and friends.
Tip 3: Assess the situation
Carry out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). This will give you a more objective view of the situation.
Tip 4: Acknowledge your feelings
Change is emotive so make sure you acknowledge your feelings rather than suppress them. Share your how you’re feeling with your friends and family.
Tip 5: Look for the positives
When you start to feel more optimistic about the change, make a commitment to move on from the past. Think about what the change means for you. Actively seek out and focus on the positive aspects of your situation.
Tip 6: Create a mission
Draw up a personal mission statement and a legacy statement so you develop a clear picture of what you want next in your life. When you know what you’re aiming for and why it matters to you, you’ll find it easier to make choices and decisions.
Tip 7: Make a plan
If you want to cope well with change, make a plan that includes clear goals and milestones. A solid plan will give you a sense of control and stop you feeling overwhelmed and more able to take positive action.
Tip 8: Take action
You might just want to escape the whole situation by sticking your head in the sand. But this is the last thing you should do. Don’t jog along and pretend everything will be fine. Action is the antidote to fear, so the more you take control of your situation and take action to determine your future, the less fearful you’ll feel.
Tip 9: Raise your confidence
When you’re first presented with change, your confidence will probably take a dip. If you’re going to make lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been handed, you need to do whatever you can to raise your confidence. Watch out for negative all-or-nothing thinking, giving in to a pessimistic outlook or having a pity party for yourself. Do something practical and life enhancing. It doesn’t have to be related to work either. Why not set about learning a language, learning to draw, getting fit or finally sorting out the mess in the garage? If you raise your self-esteem and confidence in one area of your life, you’ll raise it in another too.
Tip 10: Ask for support
When it comes to emotional support, you’ll need to ask for help from your friends and family to help you get through a difficult period. But if the change you’re facing is leaving you feeling directionless, confused and unsure about what to do next, it’s important that you get help from a career professional.
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